"Lonely tombstones at historic Cook Cemetery"
Cook Cemetery is beautiful by any definition. Its loneliness so many miles from civilization seems appropriate, mysterious. How did these people get here? Who are they? What were their lives like? How did they come to rest in this desolate canyon so far from town?
You can close your eyes and see it, if you allow it. People settled in this canyon - coming from Mississippi, South Carolina, other 'more civilized' parts of Texas. What did this place look like then - a time before oil wells and mesquite - before fences and gates. The place teemed with wildlife. The grasses were lush. And yet the dangers of Indian attacks and the swift killing of settler children by disease were a daily part of life back then.
Standing in that cemetery, reading the names, the dates - this land tells those stories, to those willing to stop, to listen.
Eastland County's Cook Cemetery is located in Cook Canyon in the eastern portion of the county. Looking down a gentle hill at a beautiful pond below from its tranquil home on a recent cool day, it is difficult to imagine the harsh life that existed when the cemetery started 135 years ago.
The cemetery began in 1871 when a little girl was killed
by Indians. Her name has been lost to history. The girl's family
was thought to have been passing through the area. William H.
Cook, for whom Cook Canyon and the cemetery are named, graciously
donated the land for her burial. The oldest marked grave is dated
1881, that of Etta Ainsworth. Many of the graves are from the
late 1800s and early 1900s.
Cook Cemetery is located approximately eight miles south of Ranger. The cemetery was used less and less through the years as the nearby communities of Cheaney and Salem disappeared, and due to the poor condition of the road into Cook Canyon up until the last few years.
There are 30 marked graves with readable names, 27 graves marked with unreadable field stones, and an additional 55 unmarked graves believed to be onsite. The first deed to the cemetery was recorded in 1871, and many additional burials from the late 1800s are believed to have taken place here. The cemetery is 1.25 acres.
Cook Cemetery is fenced with chain link and surrounded by some of the prettiest country in Eastland County. Though deeded to the Cemetery Association, the cemetery is surrounded by private property. Land owners have historically been gracious with access. The road into the canyon, though better than it has ever been, can still be tough going immediately after a rain, however.
In addition to the little girl's death that birthed Cook Cemetery, cowhand Henry Martin was killed by Indians that year just to the east of Cook Cemetery. A 1939 retelling in the Ranger Daily Times by E. T. Cox relates that the location of Martin's death was no longer (in 1939) marked by a stone marker. Narrative clues and taking terrain into account, the site is thought to be on the eastern rim of Cook Canyon. Evidence of an Indian camp is located nearby.
Martin is said to be the last killed in Eastland County by Indians and was the son-in-law of W. H. Mansker. A group was out on a hunt from Mansker's ranch when they were attacked. Martin's horse fell and he had to fight the Indians on foot. His body was later found scalped. Martin's grave site is also unknown to the writer. There is no marker in Cook Cemetery for him, nor in the more probable location of Alameda Cemetery (as he was related to the Manskers).
Founder William Henry Cook died June 15, 1886 (his certain birthdate is unknown). His wife Lievriesce Carpenter Cook (could be misspelled) was born in January 1837 and died two days after Christmas, December 27, 1897. They married in 1857. They are both interred at the cemetery in unmarked graves.
The old county plat map shows both Cook and Robinson land
near the cemetery, near the Allen Ranch. Both families raised
their children here for a time.
William's son Jim married Alie (pronounced A Lee) Robinson Cook ("Ma Cook"). One legible Cook tombstone is marked "Tobe Cook - Aged 85 years". It is probable that this is Toby or Tobias Cook, who died at 85 years old. Tobias was a physician and born in Laurens County, South Carolina about 1795, which would put his death about 1880.
The Cooks and Robinsons came to Cook Canyon from around Burnet, Texas, and earlier than that from Mississippi. The Cooks came to Mississippi from South Carolina (if the Tobe story is correct). The Weekes came from South Carolina, by way of Mississippi also. The Cook children Winnie and Vay originally went to the Allen school, then later to the Cheaney school.
James Mattison and Frances ("Fanny") Emily Barnes Robinson are also buried here. The Robinson family arrived in Cook Canyon when James Mattison was five, in 1889. James fought in the Civil War and was wounded at the Civil War Battle of Bunker Hill. Fanny came to Texas as a widow from Georgia (born in 1853). Granddaughter Willie Cook Sparger said that her great grandfather J. M. Robinson received a wound in the mouth at the battle of Bunker Hill, which took place near Winchester, VA. It was a little known battle. He wore a mustache to cover up his scars from the wound.
The cemetery, though well maintained, seems desolate and lonely being located so far from town. Back in its day, it had white painted picnic tables, whose remains can be found under some cedar trees in the cemetery. A few of the graves had iron decorative fences around them, no longer present. The original fence was thought to be barbed wire.
During May cemetery workings there was a picnic meal set up under the live oaks across the road from the cemetery. These gatherings are remembered as much shorter and less elaborate than the Alameda Cemetery working. Both cemeteries served several families around the Cheaney Community, so it was common for those families to attend both gatherings. Family members carried hoes and rakes, and the people really worked the graves. They cut weeds and piled the dirt back up on the burial mounds. One Cook family member remembered her grandmother packing their lunch. The children were strictly warned to watch for rattlesnakes (a good admonition even today).
The maintenance history of the cemetery has been uneven. Grass was either tall with weeds, or well kept, depending upon who you talk to (and what period of time they remember). The cemetery was deeded to the Cemetery Association in 1935. A private individual graciously maintains the cemetery now.
Getting to the cemetery was one of the primary reasons it fell from such active use. My great grandmother's coffin was brought down into the canyon by horse and team. My grandmother somehow managed to drive a Model A to the cemetery for that funeral without getting stuck, a miraculous feat she was proud of for many years after that. "There was a real sandy place going to Cook," one former resident remembers. "When I was a young teen, my granddad let me drive on the dirt road part of the way and I was so nervous crossing the sandy place. It probably isn't that far from Ranger, but the way was so rough and there were only a few houses, so I felt like I had gone 100 miles".
Ann Cross remembers Jim Cook coming to their grocery store, Robinson's Food Market, on the corner by Brashier's Furniture store when she was a child. Her dad was R. V. Robinson, one of the cemetery's first trustees along with Dean Gentry and Dick Weekes. Robinson bought the store in 1953 and sold it in 1962. Ann Weekes Clark remembers Jim and Alie Cook at the cemetery workings when she was a little girl.
Times were hard during most of the cemetery's active days. The story is told in my family about my grandfather Dick giving his father Cicero a choice between buying tombstones for Cicero's kids that were already buried at the cemetery or a badly needed hearing aid. There wasn't money to do both. The children today all have markers.
An inventory of the cemetery has been posted at http://www.rootsweb.com/~txeastla/cemeteries/Cook/Cook.html . Emails from as far away as Guam have been received seeking information.
Like many of the cemeteries that I have researched, Cook was at once a community cemetery and a family cemetery. The Robinsons are related to Cooks. The Cooks are related to Ainsworths. The Ainsworths are related to the Weekes. The Weekes are related to the Snells. You get the idea.
Cook Cemetery is a little more off the beaten path than its more famous cousins, the Alameda and Howard Cemeteries. It does contain ancestors who helped settle this county, and the stories of difficult lives that their courage and perseverance managed to conquer.
QUESTION - Does anyone know what or for whom the Alameda Community was named? Jeff Clark can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to contributions from the Ainsworth, Cook, Robinson and Weekes families - Jackie Andrews Tom Aishman, Ann Weekes Clark, Edgar Cook, Ann Robinson Cross, Billie Weekes Cunningham, Dixon McKinzie and Joy Weekes Felan. Additional source material Winnie Cook Sparger, 1981.
Old Civil War Grave at Cook Cemetery